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This was going to be the day that studying paid off. Up until now Calculus had been a big ball of Stink. She paid attention in class. She studied for hours the night before the tests. She even made flash cards for the tricky stuff. An idea that her dad gave her. And yes, they did get her some funny looks. But she thought maybe, just maybe, they might work one of these times. But they hadn’t yet and her faith in her dad’s study techniques was waning quickly.

Today’s test was multiple choice and she would know how she did by the end of the day. Finishing a few minutes early, she decided to take out her journal. To work on her poems. Or as her friends, not really, called them, her feelings journal. Always making sure to put feelings and journal in between air quotes. She never reacted. But, if she was being honest. It did hurt sometimes.

Making sure to check her test score online before going home was something she debated with herself. But, in the end she told herself that this time was going to be different. She had written the url right inside her notebook. Just like her teacher had told them. She always did what she was told. Figured it might one day be worth it.

Her password was Derek, her younger brother's name. They argued a lot, but in the end he was her best friend and she was his. Although neither would ever admit it.


She knew that it was one of the lowest scores in the class because everyone on the bus was talking about their scores and she had yet to hear one lower than 57%. It was then that she realized that she may in fact have received the lowest score in the class.


She had to remember to pack her shorts and tennis shoes today for “Lifetime Sports”. The name of the class always made her laugh because she knew that this would be the only time in her life that she would ever play any of them. But it was a requirement to graduate and so she did her best. And while her best was only enough to get her a C at midterm, that was all she needed to pass the class.

On the way to the gym her friend Sarah came to her in a panic. She had forgotten her tennis shoes today and she could not afford to get another zero. Sarah don’t stress it. Just wear mine. I hate the class anyway! Her foot was a half-size bigger than Sarah’s, but they would do.

As she sat on the bleachers watching everyone else try to score a goal. Or whatever it was they were doing. She wrote in her journal. She didn’t care that the teacher gave her a hard time or that her classmates didn’t even seem to know she existed. In fact, several times they just dribbled the ball right around her. As if she were a cone or a piece of sports equipment.


Oh great she thought. Sarah stayed home today because she was able to trick her parents into thinking she was sick. Now who would she sit with at lunch? Her least favorite time of the day. The time of the day when she felt like all eyes were on her.

She was able to find a spot at the end of one of the long tables. The “forbidden tables” as most kids called them. This is where the kids with low or no self-confidence could sit and be together. Funny thing was that even when they were together, they were not together.

Lunch could not be over soon enough. When she stood up to go dump her tray she tripped and almost fell. Luckily she caught herself in time. She waited for the laughs or the sarcastic claps. But there was nothing. Hello people! I just tripped and almost made a fool of myself and nothing!? Of course this was all in her head. She wouldn’t dare say them out loud. But not a word, a laugh or a look from anybody?


Since the bell just had just rung she knew she had exactly 6 minutes. Plenty of time to go the bathroom and then take the back hallway to “World History”. As usual it was packed with girls jockeying for position in front of the mirror. That was one thing she never had to worry about.

She hated looking at herself in the mirror. Didn’t look at herself in the mirror. Avoided walking past mirrors. Her mom and dad said she was pretty. But they had to. She knew that. Her little brother called her butt-face when he was mad at her. But any other time he would call her bwootiful. That was how he said it.

She was going to miss these mispronunciations. Four year olds aren’t always easy to live with, but they are cute. She had promised him that she would FaceTime him next year. It was the only thing that would get him to stop crying when he found out that it wouldn't be long before she would be going off to college. That night they must have FaceTimed each other 20 times from every room in the house. She hoped that he wouldn’t forget her. Replace her.


She almost didn’t make it to school today. She told her parents she didn’t feel well. Which was true. Her stomach did hurt. But it hurt everyday that she had to go to school. So when her dad said she could stay home if she wanted, she almost did. But something told her not to. She jumped up and ran to the garage to...

She made it to “Creative Writing” at the last minute. The only seat left was the one in the front. They had to see me now she thought. But she knew they still didn’t. Most kids probably didn’t even know her name. But that was about to change.

When the teacher asked for volunteers to share, several hands went up. If she had to hear about someone’s else’s summer plans she was going to throw up. That’s not creative, she thought. And it definitely wasn’t writing. But who was she to judge? She had never once volunteered. Why would she? Nobody even knew she existed. Why would they care about what she had to say?

And then.

She had no idea why.

She raised her hand.

To share.

She had been working on something in her Feelings Journal.

But she wasn’t ready to share it yet. Especially not with them.

And yet there she was. At the front of the room. Reading. And it felt good. It felt real good.

So she began…



What once was whole

can no longer be.

But don’t look away.

For while I am small,

and quiet

and still.

I have potential

to be so much more.

Who hasn’t been broken?



Into a million pieces?

To the point where you wish someone would just sweep you up.

Throw you away.

So you could start again.

Start over.

But look!

That piece over there.

And this piece right here.

They can be the start of something new.

Something more beautiful than before.

Something stronger.

For what was once shattered can never be broken again.

We've all been broken before.

Haven’t we?

Well guess what?

That’s okay.

It’s O-K.


And at that moment all eyes were locked on her.

And no one made a sound.

And no one moved, except to silently nod in agreement.

It was as if she held them by a string. And as she continued to read, she walked up and down the aisles. Handing each of her classmates two pieces of broken glass.

Different shapes.

Different sizes.

Different colors.


And now it is time for you to take your pieces. One you may keep. Decide what you will do with it. Or not. The decision is yours. But remember. It can never be broken again. Just knowing this should give you strength. Will give you strength.

And before they knew it she was out in the hallway for what seemed like an eternity.

They missed her already.

How could that be?

They didn’t even know her name.

But those seconds, minutes, hours…

she was gone,

were the worst of their week.

When she came back in the room she was carrying a giant piece of poster board paper. The kind that was used for middle school science fair projects. On it was the word POTENTIAL handwritten in giant bubble letters. She then proceeded to smear glue on each letter, such that it dripped onto the floor.

What next? Well now they would have flown if she had told them to fly. And as they left. One by one. They placed their pieces of glass on the poster board, such that by the time the last student placed their piece of glass on the board there was room for just one more.


She could not believe what had just happened. Up until today she had essentially been invisible. Or if not invisible, she had been purposefully ignored. But that no longer bothered her.

Because today.

For five minutes.

School was fun.

And that made her smile.

And that was enough to get her through all the bad days.


 My Week





Today was awesome!

Saturday and Sunday?

Who knows? They have potential. And that’s all that mattered anymore.

And while nobody ever talked about that day. She would never forget. The way they held on her every word. The way they carefully placed their piece of broken glass on the poster board. She kept it in her bedroom. Just to remind her on bad days. Of what a day could be.

She didn’t have more friends now and she still spent most of her free time writing in her Feelings Journal. But every once in a while. She thought. But wasn’t certain. That she saw the pieces of broken glass. Casually being twirled in a hand as if it were a good luck charm. Or taped to the inside of a locker. And she could never prove it. But she swears that the homecoming queen. The one that seemed to have everything together. Had her piece of glass made into a necklace. Just the thought of this made her smile.

Never again would she allow herself keep to score. She finally realized that life was not a game to win or lose. Life, she now knew, was about reaching the unreachable. Creating what no one thought could be created. And in her case, writing what no one thought could be written.

She fell asleep that night with a smile on her face. Hopeful of what the next day might bring. Because while she realized there were no guarantees, she now believed in each day’s potential. And that was enough.




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Jon is currently the assistant principal in Dorchester County, Maryland. This is his seventh year serving as an assistant principal at the elementary level. Prior to becoming an administrator he served as a Math Coach and an elementary school teacher. During his ten years as a classroom teacher he taught first, second, fourth and fifth grades. During his sixth year teaching he earned Nationally Board Certification, which he held for ten years. For seven years he ran a Young Gentleman's Club that was aimed at helping young men reach their full potential.  

Jon received a B.A. from Furman University while majoring in Philosophy. He later went on to earn his B.S from Salisbury University while majoring in Elementary Education. Jon was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to student teach in New Zealand. He eventually received his M.A. degree from Salisbury University in Public School Administration.

Jon lives in Cambridge, Maryland with his amazing wife and two awesome children.

  • Guest
    Heather Wednesday, 05 April 2017

    I wanted to apologize, I loved this piece. In showing it to a student I clicked on the stars to rate it and it recorded a ONE! NOT my intention, and yet seemingly permanent. This stuck a chord with me, and my students, thank you for posting it.

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Thursday, 06 April 2017

    No need to apologize whatsoever. First, I am touched that the story meant that much to you and that you shared it with your students. That means more to me than any number of stars could ever represent. Secondly, I have done the exact same thing before. Thanks again for the kind words and leaving such a thoughtful comment. It made my day.

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Guest Friday, 22 March 2019